A PROMINENT Oxford Muslim has challenged controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders to meet him for a public debate over Islam.

Dr Taj Hargey, Imam of the Summertown Islamic congregation, and leader of the Muslim Education Centre of Oxford, has invited Mr Wilders – barred from Britain in February because of his anti-Muslim views– to meet at a neutral venue, saying his ideas need to be challenged publicly rather than boycotted.

The Home Office stopped Mr Wilders from attending a House of Lords screening of his film Fitna, which described the Muslim holy book, The Quran as “fascist”, and compared Islam to Nazism.

Dr Hargey, who wrote to Mr Wilders last week, said: “I think it is important to address these issues instead of boycotting the man.

“If we ban people like him, and try to stop people like BNP leader Nick Griffin from speaking at the Oxford Union today, then who are we going to ban tomorrow? If we don’t have free speech for everyone we do not have it at all.”

Dr Hargey has himself courted controversy in the Muslim community.

He invited a woman to lead a congregation of men and women for Friday prayers, and offered financial support to a Buckinghamshire school after it refused to allow a female Muslim pupil to wear a full-face veil.

Dr Hargey said he was totally opposed to Mr Wilders’ views on Islam, but insisted that made it all the more important for them to be questioned in a public way.

He continued: “The only way to deal with this is to challenge them and expose them to ridicule by producing compelling counter-arguments.

“By banning him, Mr Wilders became a bigger hero to the anti-Muslim brigade.”

Mr Wilders was banned from entering the country for three years last October. He had been invited to the Lords by the UK Independence Party’s Lord Pearson.

As Mr Wilders is still barred from entering the UK, Dr Hargey has suggested they meet somewhere neutral, such as Ireland for an “open, peaceful and moderated discussion on Islam in the West”.

Dr Hargey said: “If he does not accept the invitation, his criticism of Islam has no foundation.

Yesterday, Dr Hargey received a call from Mr Wilders’ office saying they had received the invitation for a public discourse but that the MP was currently travelling and would not be able to respond until next week.